6th March 2015
Last week was a test for me – I had the opportunity to prove I could be a PA and a date with Charlie, and it felt like far too much at once! Maybe it wasn’t a date at all. Either way, I’m feeling like I have ruined both chances and failed the tests. Like old slippers, I’m taking comfort from the high wall of highly polished oak that secures me into the role of Receptionist. I actually am so happy with this role; happy with making teas and coffees, taking coats and making the most of meeting and greeting clients with a big cheesy grin; keeping up that smiley happy voice when answering the phone. If I’m honest, the whole covering for the EA experience made me feel totally out of my depth.
But let’s not get too depressed, every cloud and all that: on a positive note, it’s helped me appreciate what I’ve achieved in the last month and the surprising news that I really do enjoy being a Receptionist. It may not be a fast-track to better things, it doesn’t have to be a stepping stone and if it is, I’m enjoying being on this stone.
I have, however, been swotting up on hedgefund investment a lot recently – if nothing else it should prolong my previous response to the question “what do you do?” AND enable me to join in passing conversations in the kitchen with a bit more than an update on Made in Chelsea! Setting myself an achievable target keeps me distracted from the emotional roller coaster of last week: my aim is to understand hedgefunds so well that I can get as passionate about my workplace as I do about my MBA level analysis of MIC characters. Now that will be an achievement.
I also need to recount last week’s disaster so I can learn from this sometime when (if!) the failure feeling has faded:
Ed's wife, Emma, came crashing into the office last Friday to seek out her wayward husband. She has the looks of a supermodel and as a top interior designer in her own right, she’s intelligent, and inspiring, and immaculately dressed. Why would anyone do the dirty on such an incredible catch?
'Lucy, gorgeous girl, hello, how aare you? Are you looking forward to the weekend? Of course you’ll have a hot date lined up?'
When Emma speaks she floods her audience with her colossal charm - I had the thoroughly flattering impression that I was the only person on the planet, combined with the eye-aching sensation of looking directly into the sun.
'Haha, it's funny you should say that, yes I do... Tonight...'
Wowzers it had been one hell of a week filling in for Ed’s EA, but the thought of a cocktail with Charlie had been like a fat juicy carrot dangling on the horizon – the peanut butter Kitkat at the end of my spin class.
'Well of course you do darling, look at you. You know I still remember mine and Ed’s first date – I knew instantly that he was the one – you will too Lucy – I did, and it hasn't left me since that day.'
'Oh really? That’s so sweet!' – my heart's breaking for her - maybe she has no idea? Maybe it’s better that way?
'And you know he even bought me a bouquet of roses this Valentine’s Day - he's not done that for years, but between you and I, you know, the spark is still very much alive…’
Oh god this is awkward, not only is this way too much information to know about your philandering boss, but it’s heartbreaking that she clearly doesn't know about my blunder with the addresses… It was truly awful, by this point I was feeling thoroughly uncomfortable; I was absolutely squirming in my seat.
She must have noticed that I was off-centre and vulnerable because suddenly, at that moment, the pleasantries were over and she was stealing in for the kill: 'Now then Lucy: Paris, the hotel - you were going to send me the details?'
'Oh yes.. Um... I' her eyes were blazing upon me now, fixing me to my spot. I felt suddenly sapped and weary in the intensity of her attention; I was grappling for words.
Priscilla must have picked up my distress signals from the next room because all of a sudden she was by my side:
‘Emma – what a lovely surprise! Now, we have so much to catch up on, have you got a mo, let’s have a quick cup of tea?’
And they were off: ‘Lucy we’re popping into meeting room three – block it out for me would you?’
Was I still seeing sun spots or did Priscilla just wink at me over her shoulder?
Either way she had rescued not only me, but the errant Ed too, who had reemerged in his Prada Amber fog, and with a fleeting sheepish smile was able to slink back into his office unseen.
I am learning so much more here than I ever did at Uni! Sometimes I wish I’d done that PA course so I had a bit of formal training to fall back on. I thought I was pretty techtastic but the amount of red ink splattered over the letters and emails this week have shown I’ve got a lot to learn in business etiquette.
Anyway, relieved to have the heavy weight of Emma lifted from my shoulders, the rest of the afternoon flew by and before I knew it I was four martinis down, trying not to slip off my bar stool whilst gazing longingly into Charlie’s eyes.
I’d seen Fran drink a martini once, looking thoroughly sophisticated and sexy. Naturally I decided to emulate it, only I was grossly underprepared for their pure, paint-stripping strength. Charlie had raised a devastatingly attractive eyebrow when I made the first order – an expression that I read as a mark of great respect. And one that I was keen to elicit again and again, so martini followed martini and any nervousness I might have felt was soon blasted out of the water.
With all that vodka and vermouth sloshing around in my empty (pre-date nerves) belly, it wasn’t long before I’d gone off like a rogue firework. I was flirting like a trooper, leaning in unreasonably close, touching his arm with amorous overfamiliarity and oh god, I remember a truly horrible moment where I attempted to pick my napkin up off the floor with a saucy, meaningful backward glance – only I lost my balance and plowed headlong into the next-door table, spilling all of their drinks, and in my teeny mini no doubt flashing obscenely to the whole bar!
Oh god ground swallow me up – I remember telling joke after joke after joke – in my head, I had never been more hilarious in my entire life – I wish I could remember whether Charlie was laughing with me!
I wish I could remember what happened! Did we snog?? I feel like we got really close, but Fran says I had been delivered home to her in a taxi by 10pm, hugging a Big Mac. I really hope I haven’t messed this up, but I’ve barely seen Charlie all week. Perhaps I’m paranoid and he’s just busy with work….
As my grandmother says, count your blessings Lucy, count your blessings. At least I got home in one piece and I’m loving my job.
13th March 2015
I’m really superstitious about Friday 13th – I get it from my barmy old Yorkshire Grandma who would pour salt around her doorstep and hang a rabbit’s foot from the handle like a little shrine to ward the bad luck away. I left the house this morning with an ominous feeling that this was going to be a very bad day so I was tempted to draw a ring of salt around my reception desk when I arrived at work, just in case. I wish I had now – maybe Granny wasn’t as crazy as she looked. I’ve had a great week collecting compliments from every direction so it had to come to a crashing end didn’t it – sod’s law and all that.
So I arrived at work this morning and set about my usual routine – turning my clunky old computer on and disappearing to make tea and toast while it hauled its whirring self back to life. Only I got a little distracted chatting to Flora in the kitchen about whether we would or we wouldn’t with DI Hardy from Broadchurch – Flora’s argument of sexy Scottish accent and rugged unkempt beard v mine of sneery cynicism and serious heart problem (you could accidently finish him off in the process and the case would never be solved!).
In the course of our fiery debate I completely forgot about my toast, and I didn’t realise the toaster smoking away behind me until it was way too late. The fire alarm was triggered, we were all deafened by the ear-bleeding sound, and everyone was rolling their eyes and making their way out onto the street.
Always one for an over-reaction, Garth was barging his way out of the building with all the office Ipads stacked under his arms. Behind him, all the Board members were shuffling out with faces like thunder – this Friday morning had to be the monthly Board Breakfast didn’t it? I died when I saw them all filing out onto the street, almond croissants and teacups in hand. I knew it was only a matter of time before the toaster was identified as the source and the culprit confirmed as me so I handed myself in to Pricilla. She couldn’t hide her frustration, and I was crawling inside while she publicly listed the implications of my thoughtlessness.
I was feeling awful, determined to do better, to prove to Pricilla I was on top of my game. The domino effect was already in motion by that point though and it was only going to get worse. I had to do without the caffeine hit of my morning cuppa as by the time we got back inside it was almost 10am and the reception needed immediate manning. Around lunchtime I was just thinking to myself that it was an incredibly quiet morning on the phones, when Pricilla strode over – she had been expecting a call this morning from a new stationery supplier she was in negotiations with, but it hadn’t come through – had I taken any messages for her?
The penny dropped – in the fog that clouded my senses I had forgotten to turn the switchboard off night service when we returned from the fire alarm debacle. The phones had been quiet because every call this morning would have been re-directed to answerphone!
I sent Pricilla on her way, took a deep breath, and pressed the voicemail button – 9 messages, oh god, 5 of them from the stationery company exasperated by Pricilla’s hardball tactics, but a handful were from clients as well. Owning up this morning gained me an excruciatingly public dressing down with an order to sharpen my pencil which sadly was not a literal request. Aaagh, I HAVE to use my initiative and problem-solve my way out of this one…
Hang on – no one needs to know the exact time each message was left, right? …I could claim I’d thoughtfully clicked the machine back on when we all headed out for the fire alarm, and that the messages had been left within the hour we spent exiting and re-entering the building! I called Priscilla to let her know the stationery supplier had left a message, and offered to rearrange a new time for a call this afternoon – this gave me the opportunity to apologise profusely to the company without anyone else detecting my error…
Oh dear, the confessions of a wayward PA! I can’t be the only one who’s ever had to wiggle their way out of a mess up though, I’d love to hear your stories – share your own confessions in the comments section below and there could be a £25 John Lewis voucher in it for you!
Recipe for an Office Romance:
Take 1 boy
Take 1 girl
1 cup of flirty emails
½ lb of creative lunch breaks
1 pinch of photocopier meet ups
2 spoonfuls of secret smiles
And most importantly, although often overlooked:
1 lb of discretion
1. Put all your eggs into one basket.
2. Pre-prepare your excuses and have them chilled ready to use.
3. Throughout steps 1 & 2: never neglect your day job.
A recipe for love or a recipe for disaster? From observing Ed and Melissa’s over the past month I am leaning towards the latter. It’s undoubtedly risky – as Fran so elegantly put it, “it’s never a good idea to cr*p where you eat”. I prefer Granny’s version “don’t make honey where you make money”.
Charlie has been a perfect gentleman over the past few weeks, but there has not been any mention of a further coffee / lunch / drink and I am thinking that can only be a good thing. I keep replaying the low points of the evening, over and over again in my head – no wonder there was no follow up, but then maybe it wasn’t a date at all? Who cares, I have way too much to jeopardise now anyway.
I am really getting into my stride and I’m taking so much pride in my work. I’ve got my processes down, I’ve got some fantastic allies and mentors around me and I’m absolutely loving it. Although the debacle last Friday was pretty embarrassing, it also taught me to step up, take a deep breath and think my way out of a crisis. Claire, EA to the CEO, is so solutions focused – I’m learning that’s what I need to be too – she calmly trouble-shoots until she finds the answer; all graceful and unflappable on the surface, while she paddles like absolute crazy beneath. She is a swan. I need to be more like a swan; less like an ugly duckling.
This week Claire decided to pass on some of her duties on a more permanent basis so I’m now managing the diaries and preparing documents for a few members of the management team. So far so good, but it’s only been four days. They are all completely different characters – I’m feeling a little like I don’t know where to begin. I asked Claire for any advice and she just said ‘expect the unexpected’. What does that mean?
The exciting news is that I’m getting a company mobile so I’ll be accessible to the team 24/7. Not sure about that, but I can take photos of their expenses with the camera and send them directly to the accounts team and avoid the excel spreadsheet which has got to be easier.
Being really careful not to bum-call any of my work contacts, or send the wrong text to the wrong person! Has that ever happened to you? Or do you have any top tips of how to use my phone for work – any little cheats that can make my life easier? Share your tips and your stories in the comments section below and you could win a £25 John Lewis voucher!
27th March 2015
My new mantra: think like a chameleon! OK, so it’s one of Charlie’s favourite David Brent-isms, but I’m actually running with it. I’m becoming a master of reinvention.
I’m finally starting to understand what my recruitment consultant meant when she kept banging on about character ‘fit’ between a PA and his/her boss. This was my first full week of supporting three different guys, with three wildly different characters and I’m rapidly realising that when it comes to a support role, one size does not fit all.
Nigel, Sam and Ben are my three new charges. Nigel is the Legal Counsel at our firm, and a man so methodical he sets a timer for brewing tea. But where his attention to detail is generally in overdrive when it comes to raking over documents, with more everyday tasks like remembering the name of his PA (I’ve been Mary, Diana and Rhonda so far) he seems to lack the same focus. His time keeping is also terrible – hence the tea timer – I always catch him darting into the office, disheveled and late, with a trouser leg tucked into his mismatching socks. This is a sight that might make him sound endearing, but I’ve always been a bit scared of Nigel: he never seems to break into a smile and he sort of peers at me from across the room like an executive meercat.
The first few days of controlling his calendar were a disaster – he was late for every appointment, and I was too timid to interfere. But I’ve realised that Nigel is a man who depends on interruption and now I interrupt him about ten times a day to remind him about his next move. He is a man of very few words, so I've also learnt to preempt what he might need: I have document folders ready for his appointments, and I deliver him his tea at the same points every day. Admittedly he doesn’t actually say so, but I’m taking his silence as a sign that he likes these little gestures… It can be quite hard to tell.
Sam and Ben are at the other end of the spectrum. They work in business development and they're so charismatic they could sell Jordan’s autobiography in an empty room. Unlike Nigel they are not averse to telling me what they want, but what that is will invariably change up to five times within a single hour.
I’ve spent the week arranging, and rearranging a client lunch that's happening today – chopping and changing with each of their whims. Sam initially briefed me: 12.30pm, table for 4 and it HAD to be a very particular restaurant that he had recently seen on Masterchef. Obviously I was instantly worried about the chances of booking a table with just a few days’ notice, but I soon sensed that Sam does not like to hear worries; Sam likes to see results.
I busted my bottom for that reservation – after several failed attempts over the phone I took myself round to the restaurant itself. I was on the absolute charm offensive; I splurged to them my predicament and explained that my life was in their hands!
When I finally succeeded and bowled up to Sam’s desk to let him know the news, however, I was speechless with the response! Sam was not in the office, but I proudly informed Ben and waited to receive my praise:
‘But we’re going to The Wolsey Lucy, it’s the client’s favourite – it’s always The Wolsey’
Pardon? The Wolsey?!
I scooted back to my desk at lightning speed; ate a huge slice of humble pie with the first restaurant and immediately got us booked into the second. After a few time adjustments and table number revisions over the course of the day I had thought we were finally there.
Email from Sam this morning on his way in: 'Really looking forward to lunch Lucy - and seeing whether those Masterchef chaps really know what they're talking about! Thank you for all your hard work securing that table, could you just pop the reservation back ever so slightly as the client will be 10 minutes late'
OH GOD! Do Sam and Ben not talk to each other?? They only sit about a metre apart! Is there any chance I could get that first reservation back?? HELP